A group of outstanding individuals is gathering in the Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama this week to celebrate the 10th anniversary edition of the Atacama Crossing. On the morning of Sunday, 5 October, a diverse group of 163 competitors from 36 nations— spanning double Olympians, blind athletes and many raising funds for charities—will set out on the stunning 250-kilometer course.
“The Atacama Crossing has become one of the most beloved races of the 4 Deserts Race Series for its astonishing location and highly challenging course,” said Mary Gadams, who founded the 4 Deserts Race Series in 2002. “I can hardly believe that it is ten years since the first edition – this is another milestone in the 4 Deserts Race Series history and I am looking forward to this special anniversary celebration of the race.”
Set in the elevated plateaus of the Atacama Desert, the driest, non-Polar desert in the world, the Atacama Crossing is renowned for its high altitude – always a mile above sea level – its terrain of demanding salt flats, and astonishing lunar beauty. The seven-day, six-stage odyssey spans historical Incan trade routes, sand dunes, streams, gorges, salt flats, salt lakes, slot canyons, oases and the magnificence of nature sanctuaries such as the Valley of the Moon and Valley of Death. The course culminates on Saturday, 11 October in the town square of San Pedro de Atacama where the local inhabitants and visitors await the jubilant competitors as they cross the final finishline.
The race has drawn entrants from across the globe, with highest numbers coming from the United States (35), United Kingdom (18), Canada (13) and South Korea (12). Among the race favorites is acclaimed Spanish athlete and double Olympian, Jose Manuel “Chema” Martinez Fernandez. The 42-year old is halfway through his 4 Deserts Grand Slam attempt this year—all of the 4 Deserts races in one calendar year—and he’s already won the Gobi March (China) and gained 2nd place at the Sahara Race (Jordan). Andrzej Gondek of Poland is another strong contender, also in the Grand Slam, who placed fourth overall at the Gobi March in China earlier this year. He is engaging in the race with fellow Polish racers Marek Wikiera and Daniel Lewczuk, who are part of a group of 23 competitors taking on the Grand Slam this year. The equally strong women’s field includes Isis Breiter of Mexico who emerged as female champion at the Gobi March and placed sixth overall at the Sahara Race (both in 2014). She is joined by Kristinet van der Westhuizen of South Africa, third overall woman at the Sahara Race 2014 and second placed female in that same race in 2012, as well as Emily Woodland of the United Kingdom who earned fourth place in the women’s division of the Gobi March 2012.
A dazzling range of diverse human stories will be playing out in the brutal beauty of the Atacama Desert this week. The blind athlete Vladmi dos Santos, who works closely with Brazil’s Paralympic Committee, is taking on his third 4 Deserts race here after winning the Spirit Award at the Atacama Crossing in 2013. He is being guided during the race by the American firefighter Erin Leighty.
The Iranian-Canadian competitor and 4 Deserts Club member Ashkan Mokhtari is returning for his astonishing 17th RacingThePlanet event—having completed the Atacama Crossing five times previously. Americans Penelope and Keith Boettiger are racing for the charity they founded, Mamush.org, which provides training for Ethiopian orphans transitioning into their adult lives. There are also six teams coming from America, Spain, Korea (South), the United Kingdom and a hybrid of Brits and New Zealanders who live in India, UAE and the United Kingdom. They will be battling it out for a podium place.
“We are excited to welcome competitors such as Chema Martinez to this extraordinary terrain as well as to see the group of Grand Slam contenders – the largest group we’ve ever had – move into their 750th kilometer of the year and go from strength to strength. We wish all competitors a safe race and hope they enjoy it as much as those who have gone before them” said Samantha Fanshawe, President of the 4 Deserts Race Series.
This year the Atacama Crossing is supporting the Chilean charity Fundaciòn Amigos de Jesús, a non-profit organization that takes care of children and adults with disabilities ranging from Downs Syndrome to more severe handicaps. The donation made will help to support the running costs over the next year to ensure adequate care can continue to be provided.